We had earlier written how the trouble in the north-east really began with the mismanagement during the partition in 1947. That followed by the organized genocide of the Bengali Hindu population by the Pakistani Army in present-day Bangladesh forced many to migrate to India and live as refugees, most of whom were Bengali Hindus. Since the Indo-Pak war in 1971, however, the religious denomination of those seeking residence in India has changed vastly. The influx of immigrants into Assam from Bangladesh resulted in huge protests, which often turned violent, that culminated with the signing of the Assam Accord between the Government of India and the leaders of the movement in 1985.
Former Congress President Sonia Gandhi, however, during her campaign in the state in 2006, had allegedly promised to amend the Foreigners Act which would prevent the deportation of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.
As per a WikiLeaks cable from 2006 allegedly sent by US consulate officer in Kolkata on 16th February 2006, on 11th February 2006, UPA chairman and Congress President Sonia Gandhi had travelled to Assam to launch the 2006 state assembly campaign.
The cable says that while the BJP and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) the main opposition in Assam were fragmented, Congress still had not lost support from the critical Muslim community. Sonia Gandhi had then offered to amend the Foreigners Act to prevent the deportation of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.
As per the cable (emphasis added),
The Muslim vote is likely to determine whether Congress can retain its majority. The Muslim community’s importance has been magnified by a steady influx of Bangladeshi immigrants and Muslims presently hold 13 Congress seats in the assembly. Traditionally, Congress had been the party of choice for the Muslims as it protected illegal Bangladeshi migrants from deportation. Congress also supported the Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunals Act (IMDT) of 1983, applicable only in Assam, which made identification, detection and deportation of foreigners in Assam incredibly complex and protected post-1971 illegal Bangladeshi migrants.
Congress’ relations with the Muslims suffered a setback in July 2005, when the Supreme Court ruled the IMDT unconstitutional. Assam, like the rest of India, is now subject to the Foreigners’ Act of 1946, which requires the police to deport illegal residents. Muslims in Assam criticized the Congress for failing to support the IMDT in court and in November 2005, formed a Muslim political group the United Democratic Front (UDF). UDF Leader Hafiz Rashid Chowdhury (protect) said that the UDF is running on the slogan of “Anti-Congress, Anti-BJP.”
The Congress had passed the IMDT Act in 1983 to determine whether a person is or is not an illegal migrant in the state of Assam. In rest of the states, the identification of foreigners was done through Foreigners Act, 1946. The cable further states (emphasis added):
The Congress has tried to appease the Muslims by not enforcing the Foreigners Act and in her recent visit, Gandhi offered to amend the Act. According to Assam Congress Spokesman Abdul Khaleque (protect), the amendment would effectively bring the IMDT provisions under the Foreigners Act and again create special exceptions and a tribunal for Assam. Also on February 11, Gandhi visited Barpeta, which has a large concentration of Bangladeshi Muslims, and laid the foundation stone for a new medical college.
Another cable dated 29th July 2005 sent by US consulate in New Delhi speaks about the repealing of the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) (IMDT) Act in Assam. The cable reads how the repealing of the Act is considered as a victory for the BJP and the AGP and paving way for more liberal deportation procedures. The cable says (emphasis added):
The Congress government, which passed the IMDT Act in 1983, has been accused of catering to mostly-Muslim Bangladeshi migrants in order to use them as a vote bank, and of allowing “demographic aggression” in Assam. The total lack of political will by the Congress-led government, as well as logistical obstacles to implementation will likely blunt any surge in deportations, but the repeal will nonetheless intensify communal politics in Assam and hurt the Congress party’s electoral prospects ahead of spring 2006 elections there.
A Congress Party government passed the IMDT Act in 1983 at the height of an anti-foreigner (read: Bangladeshi) uprising spearheaded by the All Assam Student’s Union (AASU) in response to the growing number of Bangladeshi refugees in Assam. The new law supplanted the Foreigner’s Act, which still governs the rest of the country, and was intended to assuage the anti-immigrant groups by setting up a judicial mechanism in the form of tribunals to determine the nationality of a suspect. In practice, it made deportations more difficult by moving the burden of proof of nationality from the suspect (as under the Foreigner’s Act) to the accuser, i.e., in most cases, the government, but also private citizens and entities. The Congress government used the act to pay lip service to expulsions for electoral gain while allowing illegal immigration to continue unabated.
As a result, the IMDT Act became widely viewed by ethnic Assamese, their parties, and the national BJP party as
a hurdle to identifying and deporting illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Assam. Largely-Hindu opposition parties such as the AGP and the BJP deemed the law “migrant friendly” and accused the Congress of shoring up its vote base by giving Muslim Bangladeshis the right to vote. As the AGP, All-Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and BJP began to agitate against the ineffective and duplicitously-named law, Congress defended it on the ground that it helped prevent genuine citizens from being harassed.
The cable also states how many, including people within the Congress, felt that the IMDT Act put the government and all of its apparatus in favour of the migrants. Kirip Chaliha, Congress leader from Assam had reportedly said that although Congress must publicly oppose the repeal, privately agreed that the act was a detriment to security and that the government “cannot be blind on infiltration.” The cable further states that the Congress’ prospects in Assam may be affected because of perception amongst Muslims that Congress failed to ‘protect them’. It further states that the repeal of the IMDT Act may have simplified the process of deportation, the lack of political will by Congress made sure that the Muslims would not really suffer
Another cable from 22nd September, 2005 from New Delhi in India states that the problem of change in political demographics in the Northeast and increase in Islamic extremism is aggravated by the realisation that ‘neither the Communist and Congress parties, which in many areas rely on a Muslim vote bank, nor Bangladesh, which India claims denies all migration, are ready to do anything to stem the problem.’ It states that the Communist and the Congress parties which were in power in the many of the border states in East and Northeast had “exhibited no political will to crack down on immigrants”. Except in West Bengal, where “Congress was against migrants as they tend to vote for the CPI(M)”.
The cable states (emphasis added):
As more migrants gained the right to vote, they quickly became a protected vote bank for Congress and Communist parties. This violent history and the continued efforts to exaggerate the threat of immigration makes the migrants more susceptible to radicalism.
The accusations that the Congress and Communist parties cater to Muslim migrants as a vote bank by giving them illegal voting rights have raised concerns in political circles about the effect of the “demographic invasion.”
Recently, after initially opposing the National Register for Citizens (NRC), Congress has now gone on damage control mode as Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said that Congress is not against the NRC, but it should be implemented as per the Assam Accord signed during the tenure of Rajiv Gandhi and said that this is a humanitarian issue. This sort of reflects how Congress dealt with the IMDT Act where Centre opposing the repeal of act whereas privately the state unit would be in favour of the repeal, as revealed by the cables.
Congress is not the only one with double standards. We had earlier reported how TMC supremo and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee who is now claiming that the NRC could lead to unrest in the country, wanted the Centre to handle the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants’ issue since it ‘spelt disaster for Bengal’.